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MLK speaks to students, decades later

by Tori Martinez - Managing Editor
Tue, Apr 3rd 2018 11:00 pm

Exactly half a century ago, on April 4, 1968, civil rights activist and leader, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. It was just one day after he addressed a rally held by black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike for nearly a month, fighting for higher wages and better treatment in the workplace. 

In his last ever speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” given that day before his assassination, he preached about marching for and continuing non-violent protests, a message that he spread throughout the entire civil rights movement.

 King believed that to overcome racism and oppression, people must do so through reconciliation could only be done through love. 

The King Center website reads, “Dr. King believed that the age-old tradition of hating one’s opponents was not only immoral, but bad strategy which perpetuated the cycle of revenge and retaliation. Only nonviolence, he believed, had the power to break the cycle of retributive violence and create lasting peace through reconciliation.”

This message is what inspired The College at Brockport to hold an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Lecture, which this year featured keynote speaker Marc Lamont Hill on Monday, April 2. The event was a collaboration between the  Department of African & African-American Studies (AAS), Brockport Student Government, and the Office of Diversity. The title of his lecture was “Building Communities,” which Naomi Williams, an AAS assistant professor, says was fitting.

“The title of his talk is actually really representative of what the Department of African & African American Studies teaches,” Williams said. “It’s about Martin Luther King Jr. himself, but also of the notion of a ‘beloved community’ and how we can interpret that for our own times, because we can’t just take a snapshot of the mid-1960s, but we need to interpret it for what our current society looks like today.”

Williams spoke of the polarization and divisiveness in the United States today. She says that the lack of decent jobs and the desperation to find them, as well as the nation’s ongoing economic crisis, have led to the overt racism the country is experiencing right now. People are afraid for their future and the future of their children, which Williams says is being manipulated by politicians, who are helping to fuel hate.

“I think there are different forces that are trying to divide the nation in ways that are more straightforward and open,” Williams said. “Some of it’s politics, some of it is through a feeling of desperation … White supremacists have taken this time as an opening to push their agenda. But at the same time, you have forces from below like students and real working class people who understand that the messages they’re hearing don’t actually address what they need to see happening. They need access to jobs, but they also need access to good jobs, and that isn’t influenced by race.”

Williams spoke of the Parkland, Florida shooting survivors who have made an intentional effort to be intersectional in their fight against gun violence.

“The fact that you have young people presenting this message [of intersectionality], and the fact that there’s so many young people who think this way and who understand the world this way, it’s very encouraging and it does offer hope for our future.”

She connected this back to the college, saying that many of the steps the college has taken in response to racism and other issues are  promising. The college is continuously working on being inclusive so that all Brockport community members feel as though their opinions are valued. 

“That’s what the beloved community idea is about,” Williams said. “It’s not like some fantastic utopia with people of all races are holding hands in the park and watching flowers bloom; it’s about being committed to working together even when we have differences in opinions, and encouraging those differences and those tensions, trusting that each group of stakeholders is valued in their participation in the community.So the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Lecture is a way for us as a Brockport community to have a conversation about what the campus needs to look like, what the village needs to look like.”

King may have been assassinated 50 years ago, and he may never have stepped foot on this campus, but his legacy and message of a beloved community live on. At Brockport, students, professors and community members alike continue to learn from him each year. 

Through lectures like the one Lamont gave on Monday, we continue to learn about the ways in which we can support and love each other, even when the world and campus can be filled with hate.We can learn to grow into the kind of community that everyone can benefit from and thrive in.

 

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